Halloween Spirit in Seoul

I’m a big ‘fraidy cat so Halloween isn’t my fav holiday.

I used to put myself through scary movies and haunted houses as a child and preteen, but in late high school and undergrad, I outgrew these once adrenaline-pumping experiences as they became more anxiety inducing.

Two anecdotes contributing to my distaste for all things creepy and crawly:

  • Senior year of high school – A couple classmates played a prank on me by sending “the video” (signaling impending death) from horror flick The Ring. I immediately took the TV out of my bedroom.
  • Senior year of college – I tried out my first haunted corn maze (so Midwest) with my cousin and other friends. My cousin and I moved slowly through the maze with our eyes half-closed, clutching each other. We were so frightened that one particular frustrated employee actually stopped his act, took off his mask and reassured us that were fine, encouraging us to move more quickly so the line didn’t get too long.
Jersey Shore Halloween
Halloween undergrad reunion in EL (2010)

With this context in mind, Michal and I have pretty much only truly celebrated the holiday and done couple costumes a handful of times in the years we’ve been together – and usually because there was a specific event we were attending.

One Halloween highlight is when we returned to East Lansing to reunite with friends from undergrad and revisited classic dive bars to relive those glory days. At this point in time, reality TV show “Jersey Shore” was really popular so I was Snooki and Michal was The Situation.

Halloween Hi-jinks in Seoul

Now living in Seoul, we have discovered Halloween is more of a holiday for expats with local Koreans who are out to enjoy the show. First case in point: The only time/place we saw groups of children and parents trick-or-treating was in Hannam-dong – the neighborhood known for its international community as it houses all the embassies.

Getting later into the night, we attended a party hosted by Michal’s co-workers with mostly expat guests, and then attempted bar-hopping in the infamous foreigner-friendly Itaewon neighbhorhood. The expats were all decked out and some had clever costumes like one group I spotted who were Legos (was definitely a DIY Pinterest-type project). Most of the Koreans were not dressed in full costume, or instead had simple costume accents like some scary make-up or animal ears.

Itaewon Halloween 2015
Walking the streets in Itaewon on Halloween night was at times impossible with the crowd!

Michal was out of town for most of October on his business trip, so we came up with costumes separately. I decided to be Agnes from the Pixar movie Despicable Me because I thought the costume would be easy to put together. (Most people thought I was a Minion, which I was fine with because it at least was a related character.) Michal was – cleverly – an MSU Spartan. (Most people reacted with “boos” because we know a lot more U of M grads than MSU in Seoul.)

Halloween costumes in Seoul
Our Halloween costumes in Seoul: Agnes from the movie Despicable Me and an MSU Spartan warrior.

Tips and Tricks with Costumes in Seoul

All dressed up for Halloween with the ladies at the party!
All dressed up for Halloween with the ladies at the party!

GMarket: I got the overalls and yellow T-shirt from this Amazon-like website based in Korea. Make sure to select the English version of the site and search using Google Chrome so you can right-click to translate pages when needed. When some of the drop-down menus were in Korean, I would use the Google Translate app on my phone to quickly understand the options. Shipping is fast (got my clothes in just a couple days) and prices are mostly fair depending on the product/item.

Namdaemun Market: This ginormous open-air market is known for whole sale. Michal found a few stalls dedicated to Halloween with costume options and accessories. As he already had a Spartan flag and shirt at home, he only bought the helmet and the spear for a decent price (under $15 total with some bargaining). Make sure to bring cash to these types of markets and always ask for a discount – especially if buying more than one item.

What a majority of our friends/colleagues did:

  • Borrowed costumes from other friends or put together a homemade outfit.
  • Selected some easy accessories to buy like cat ears or witches hats from street vendors in Itaewon and paired these with items already in their closet.
  • Bought costumes from the few pop-up shops that are available in Seoul. Check out this link for a recent TimeOut Magazine article, but keep in mind these shops may not exist next year.

*For the adventurous – Some guy friends bought costumes from “role play” sections of stores. (Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?) The biggest differences with these costumes were that they were a bit risqué and had titles that were suggestive spin-offs. (i.e. Julius Caesar costume was called Julius Pleaser.) They ended up making their outfits passable/more conservative by wearing a shirt underneath the original top.

October Book Buddies

Another fun Halloween-related activity Michal and I participated in was hosting a book club get-together. (Meetings are held at the end of the month after reading.) The club is typically composed of spouses of Michal’s co-workers, but I chose a book that would have some appeal to both crowds and that also had a movie version out – The Martian so that the turnout would yield more attendance/participation. It ended up being an entertaining discussion comparing/contrasting the book and movie version.

Michal brought back a ton of Mars brand candies from his U.S. business trip to share with the group and to go with the theme. And, with this week’s Gachi CSA shipment, I made some American autumn treats like caramel apples and slow cooker vegetarian chili with all the fixings. (Slow cooker stews are the easiest and most efficient way to clean out the fridge and use up veggies before they go bad!)

October 2015 Book Club
October 2015 Book Club Meeting: American Autumn classics

The caramel apples were Koreanized as I made them out of mini-apples, very common in local produce, and with skewers instead of Popsicle sticks because these are cheap and easy to find. Overall, I liked this version better than the usual size apples because caramel apples tend to be overwhelmingly sweet and too big. A couple bites is usually just enough. And there were a few people who had never tasted a caramel apple before, so this was just an introduction.

What’s next for expat holiday experiences?

I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to be in Seoul for Thanksgiving. It should be interesting among the expat community with the turkey shortage due to Avian Flu …

What have been your favorite Halloween costumes? And if you live in Seoul, how do you celebrate Halloween? Got any suggestions for me for next year?

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